Become Like Little Children

Joe Simmons, SJ over at the Jesuit Post is begging parents not to use the cry room.

When I’m at Mass, talking adults drive me nuts. But not kids. As they squirm and roam the space with their clear eyes and mouths agape, I smile. As Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes here, we need your wailing kids at church not despite the distractions they bring, but exactly because they are distractions from what otherwise can be – let’s admit – a sometimes selfish time. We need them to pull us out of ourselves, or at least I do. And although we usually don’t say welcome or thank you, we should.

My pastor, Fr. Jack Ledwon has a great take on all of this. He often says that little kids have a hard time sitting there for about an hour and can get really overstimulated as well. So there’s no need for a parent to torture their child. If they need to go take a walk, then take them for a walk. Use the bathroom, sure it’s right in the sacristy. There’s even a rocking chair for moms who want to rock their baby to calmness.

Babies don’t distract me at mass. Like Fr. Simmons, SJ, I always love seeing them at mass. What does distract me and annoy me are children who should know better. My sense is that this applies to every child over the age of 8 or so. You can sit there for about an hour without having a meltdown in you’re in 2nd grade, but things happen and I suppose each child is different and no matter what, we should welcome them. Perhaps talking to an older child privately about their behavior could be warranted, but we should also ask ourselves why we can’t engage children with a liturgy that is meant for all of us–not just a select few?

But my favorite story about this–or should say my least favorite comes from one of my old University Professors, Dr. Kieran Scott who reported that he attended a parish once where a young mother brought her 4 little boys to mass. They were quite a handful and not a one of them were over the age of 6.

You could only imagine: one pokes the other, so the other punches back, etc.

She’s there with a baby in her arms praying that he won’t wake up and trying to keep the three other ones in line. The parishioners all sympathized with her, save one: The Pastor.

In the middle of his homily he screamed: “YOU!”

The woman looked up and pointed at herself.

“YES, YOU. With those three little brats and another one on the way to be a brat! You are a horrendous mother! I have worked very hard on this homily and nobody is paying attention because YOU can’t control these children.”

The woman’s eyes turned downcast.

The pastor continued: “Now take those kids and get out and only come back to this mass when you can teach them how to behave!”

The woman started to leave with her eyes down and head lowered. She started to cry. I imagine the kids were elated….but then one thing happened that amazed my professor.

Everyone else started to leave too.

It seems Fr. Jerk was saying anything worth listening to anyway and his actions motivated the best in the parish.

One parishioner put his arm around mom and said “C’mon honey, we’ll find your family another church where they’ll actually be glad you are bringing your kids to church.”

And thus, we pastoral workers need to understand not just the need of parents, but the needs of children. Might we want to get them moving to a children’s liturgy of the word, so they can understand the word better? Might we want to be good preachers so that everyone understands our stories of salvation and the examples we use?

Might we want to learn children’s names and be more open to the vocation they have right now, not down the road?

How might we become like little children, who don’t discriminate, who share, who remain open to new experiences and who are all to eager to learn?

And might we be more open to the stranger in our midst and be a church truly open to welcome all.

Even if their kids are noisy.

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3 Comments

  1. Holy moly! I’m not sure what I would have done with that pastor!! At our parish, it’s been made abundantly clear that the cry room is for nursing or feeding if you’re uncomfortable in the pew, for truly misbehaving children if you need to scold and for…well, that’s about it.

    We have a family with an autistic son who is apparently a little louder than what some parishioners would like. They (after complaining) were reminded exactly what our role was as a community of believers, and it wasn’t to complain that a child was loud. In no uncertain terms, they were asked to check their attitudes at the door and appreciate a living, breathing parish with multitudes of children, some admittedly louder than others.

    Not only is it a reminder to be as little children, but it should remind us that it’s not just for my personal prayer about me and my time for worship…it is the act of worship itself and giving glory to him whom we worship. Make a joyful noise!! 😉

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    1. One of the interesting things I often say is that people wouldn’t let their kid make noise like that at a Broadway play or the movies but in church they sit idly by and pay little attention to those around them. The bottom line is that we surely need to do this, but that parents need not torture their kid. Do what you must to make them comfy.

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  2. Reminds me of a time when I took my two children to Mass on my own. They were about 18 months and 3 years old. My wife was away visiting her ill father for the weekend and so i decided to take the children to Mass on the Sunday. During Communion, my daughter, who has a bit of a temper when riled, realised that she had not seen her mum for a while and got quite upset. i tried to soothe her, asking her did she want to go and see her godmother who was sat nearby. My daughter screamed at the top of her voice that No she did not want to see Doreen, she wanted her mum! This set her older brother off as well and he started wailing. Foryunately, our parish community had grown over the years, moving from the endless tutting from certain members and I was given help and support. Now with the children in their teens we all try and help support families. my son befriended one small boy, so that we became friends with the family and my wife was asked to be the godmother of his little sister.

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